A Day in the Life of 5 Directors of Product

Janey Zitomer
March 19, 2020

“We’re being judged by a new yardstick: not just by how smart we are or by our training and expertise, but also by how well we handle ourselves and each other.”

Head of Product Mack Keyvani follows this advice from the book “Working With Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman in his role at 15 Seconds of Fame Inc. He’s paid special attention to developing relationships and emotion management as his responsibilities have increased. 

“These are all important qualities to have when you are in a cross-functional role and have to deal with members of different teams,” Keyvani said. 

He, along with product leaders at Centerfield Media, Slickdeals, <weavy/> and Core Digital Media believe that directors of product should lead with context, curiosity and a broad understanding of what the industry landscape looks like.  

 

Zach Robbins
SVP of Digital

Robbins leads strategy and execution of core product initiatives at Centerfield Media. He focuses on e-commerce, omnichannel capabilities and customer-centric marketing at the big data and digital media company. When he’s not owning product lifecycles, he’s analyzing performance KPIs. Robbins credits his personal success with pushing outside his comfort zone and constantly questioning what’s possible for features. 

 

Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product?

My career started as the founder of a marketing technology business, where I was responsible for both consumer products and the underlying technology. Throughout that experience and to date, my primary focus has been on driving growth and helping scale businesses through product development and optimization.

 

What are your job responsibilities? 

A typical day for me starts with the requisite caffeine and analyzing performance KPIs. Ranging from conversion rates to revenue per visitor, we push on these to understand opportunities or misses and potentially troubleshoot cross-functionally where necessary. 

From there, it typically shifts toward planning activities alongside a variety of stakeholders, including engineering, data, design, media, leadership and external partners. We focus on our roadmap and pipelines to ensure we are on track to meet our goals.

A typical day for me starts with the requisite caffeine and analyzing performance KPIs.’’ 

 

What makes a good director of product?

Great directors of product often push outside of their comfort zone to understand what’s possible beyond a set of features and their direct team. They understand the broadest context of how and why a product should or should not function. And they can’t do that without reaching out to their peers and seeking a broader understanding.

 

Keyvani looks for a sense of curiosity and the ability to learn quickly in product candidates. The 15 Seconds of Fame team leader also touted the benefits of having a general understanding of product psychology, user testing and analytics. Keyvani is currently working with the company’s leadership team and internal and external stakeholders to create alignment on current projects. 

 

Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product?

I have a dual degree in electrical engineering and computer science. I began my career as a software engineer for a Fortune 500 company. After almost four years there, I decided to quit to start my own company. I noticed that I really enjoyed talking to potential customers, figuring out what needed to be built, sketching out wireframes and working with developers to build an MVP. That was back in 2012. It took a lot of learning, launching and improving mobile apps and A/B testing to finally become a director of product in 2018.

Product managers must have or develop emotional intelligence.’’ 

 

What are your job responsibilities? 

I start my day with a cup of coffee as I go through Jira and other communication channels to see if any teams have any blockers that need to be resolved. I also check our app’s pulse by monitoring our analytics dashboard for any anomalies.

Our current initiatives include a new sports teams partnership and increased app functionality. I work with our leadership team as well as internal and external stakeholders to gather requirements for those projects and ensure everybody is aligned with our roadmap. I also help with recruiting and growing our team in LA. 

 

What makes a good director of product?

In addition to being a servant leader and helping your team succeed, product managers must have or develop emotional intelligence, contextual communication and the ability to learn quickly.

There’s a wonderful book on emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman that dives into contributors such as self-awareness, managing emotions, empathy and managing relationships. These are all important qualities to have when you are in a cross-functional role and have to deal with members of different teams.

It’s important for any PM to be able to effectively communicate goals, roadmaps and other daily updates with people in marketing, tech and leadership roles. They should also be able to identify feature and initiative success so that they can consistently be improved upon.

 

Leo Chau
Senior Product Manager

Chau gained experience building out a customized customer relationship management (CRM) platform and in-house applicant tracking system (ATS) for a San Diego consultancy in 2014. He took that knowledge with him and moved back to Los Angeles in 2017. There, he joined Internet Brands, managing more than 120 forum websites geared toward car enthusiasts. 

Since joining Slickdeals in 2018, Chau helped launch the company’s Chrome browser extension in November  2019. Chau has his sights set on releasing Firefox and Edge support for the crowdsourced shopping platform later this month.

 

Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a senior manager of product?

I started off working at an executive search consultancy. We partnered with private equity firms, helping them place executives of tech companies they invested in. Talking with hundreds of chief product officers at companies like cars.com, backcountry.com, Peloton, Groupon, Ticketmaster and Expedia got me really interested in product and the problems that product managers have to solve.

I carved out a product role at the company to build out a customized CRM platform to help the business development team track and better convert their leads. And I built out an in-house ATS to help recruiters better manage the candidates in the pipeline.

About two years into my role as auto enthusiast group product manager at Internet Brands, Slickdeals reached out to me about an opportunity for a product position, soon after Goldman Sachs had invested in the company in 2018. Since it was a great time to help build the product during a massive growth phase, I accepted the offer. I currently lead the Slickdeals browser extension and loyalty platform. 

 

What are your job responsibilities? 

Sometimes I’m helping conduct user research, crafting user surveys and building user tests to get quick insights on prototypes that the team has collectively created. Other days, we’re digging deep into the data in Google Analytics, Heap and other internal reporting dashboards to better understand how users are interacting with our product.  

We often write requirements and participate in Agile development rituals like discovery, grooming and sprint planning meetings with our development team. All in all, we’re constantly iterating our product to better meet our user needs and solve their pain points while growing the business and meeting our company objectives.

Good senior-level product managers have a deep understanding of the data and empathy for the users.’’  

 

What makes a good senior manager of product?

The innate intellectual curiosity to understand the “why” behind how users are using the product and the data that’s being collected separates a great product manager from a good one. It’s the intellectual curiosity that prompts the product manager to dig deeper into the data, segment it a dozen different ways and come up with hypotheses to test and iterate on. This strategy allows the team to quickly learn and improve on the product. Without it, product managers can easily fall into the trap of jumping to conclusions and coming up with solutions that probably won’t address a user pain point.

At the senior and director level, I think it’s about turning those learnings into a cohesive product strategy and roadmap. Good senior-level product managers have a deep understanding of the data and empathy for the users of their product. 

Product managers working in a product team should be able to mentor other product managers by helping them develop that understanding of the data and their users so they can craft stories and hypotheses that they effectively communicate to the rest of the team.

 

Rickard Hansson
CEO and Director of Product

Hansson believes that aside from technical and leadership skills, the best quality a good director of product can have is a healthy sense of balance and level-headedness. In his role, he gets to directly work on the products that make his founder dreams a reality. 

 

Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product?

I got my first computer when I was 10 years old and started building games. I built my first B2B software in Pascal for a business when I was 15. Before developing <weavy/>, I built three other companies, and one of which became the No. 1 CMS in Sweden. I never went to university and I dropped out of school at 17 but I’ve always been curious and driven to make my own way. 

Transparency within my company (or any software company) is really important.’’ 

 

What are your job responsibilities? 

I wouldn’t say I have a typical day, but on a good day I’m spending time both down in the ones and zeros, collaborating with my team of engineers and seeing what’s happening, but also having a roadmap conversation with major clients. 

Transparency within my company (or any software company for that matter) is really important. So I spend a lot of my time making sure my team is on the same page and we’re either delivering on our promises or we’re working toward creating something our customers don’t even know they need yet. 

 

What makes a good director of product?

A good director of product should be stubborn enough to take on challenges and work to find solutions but flexible enough to make changes based on customer feedback and current trends. Good product development takes skilled planning and forethought. We also need to be increasingly adaptable and able to admit when we should think outside of the box. 

I think all directors of product and product engineers will tell you that there’s a sense of pride that comes with building out really solid software. At the same time, you need the right amount of humility to say, “this isn’t working” or “this is outside my area of expertise.” 

 

Dan Yerelian
Lending Product Director

In 2017, Yerelian helped the Core Digital Media team navigate an acquisition by Quicken Loans. Since he first started at the company a few years prior, he’s gained responsibility, leading him to his current role as lending product director. In addition to considering himself a central source of information about the business’s lending products, he strives to be a leader and confidante.

 

Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product?

I graduated with a computer science degree and went into software development for a business process optimization company in California called Aestiva Software. 

In 2010, I enrolled in Loyola Marymount University’s MBA program. During that time, I was recruited to work at Mattel in the global IT department as a business analyst. I managed their girls’ branded digital products and helped the team transition to a global content management system.

I started at Core Digital as a lending associate product manager in 2014 after I completed my MBA. I’ve helped guide the team through different product iterations. I’ve have had some failures and some even bigger wins. 

I’ve have had some failures and some even bigger wins.’’  

 

What are your job responsibilities? 

I’m a central source of information about our lending products. I lead a team of two product managers who empower people to improve their lives financially.  

A typical day for me starts around 4 a.m. When I get up, I run with my dog for two or three miles. The exercise gives me a chance to wake up and start thinking about the day. Depending on daycare duty, I’m either out the door or starting work by 5:30 a.m. 

At work, our mornings are reserved for our Agile team meetings. We have two teams. One team is focused on our regular product development and QA work like new product initiatives, A/B tests and optimizations. The other team is currently focused on a long-term project to migrate and update our lending framework to a microservice-oriented architecture.

Three times a week we will also have 6:45 a.m. PST meetings with our Quicken Loan team members who are based in Michigan. Depending on day of week, we have larger touch-base recaps on current product tests, sales initiatives and KPI reviews. Once a month, I host an all-hands lending update meeting to provide lending product visibility to the rest of the company.

 

What makes a good director of product?

A good product leader should have a top-down view of the company. This means understanding, enhancing and providing input on our company’s goals and strategies. A good product leader should be able to identify, align on and drive opportunities. When things change, they should be able to pivot quickly.

They should be the go-to person when issues or challenges arise and know how to quickly identify root causes, provide solutions and communicate clear explanations. 

 

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